Thursday, 18 December 2014
Palliative Care Facilities
I thank the Minister of State for taking this motion. I have tabled four Adjournment matters on this issue since being elected to Seanad Éireann, because it is important not just for the people of Waterford but those of the entire south east.
A palliative care unit needs to be built on the grounds of University Hospital Waterford, formerly Waterford Regional Hospital. The last time I tabled a motion on this issue, the response from the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, was: "Arrangements are being put in place to fund this project in order that all capital costs are covered, including construction cost, design fees, equipping, etc." In reality, the local hospice movement is being asked to fund-raise to make this a reality. Despite all of the announcements that have repeatedly been made by the Department and two Ministers for Health, we are no closer to building the unit. Each time I raised this matter previously, I praised the former Minister for Health for allocating or earmarking capital funding for this project, but impatience is starting to build in the south east because this is not happening as quickly as it should. I put the Minister on alert that I would keep raising this issue every six months to get an update from him and the Department.
I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, is aware that we in the south east fought a hard and long campaign for cancer and radiotherapy services to be provided on the grounds of Waterford Regional Hospital, but it did not happen. The palliative care unit was an area in which there was some Government progress, even if it fell short of what was required. The previous Government promised a full oncology unit, including beds, radiotherapy and palliative care. Although this was seen as a step down, it was a step in the right direction. I look forward to the Minister of State's response, but this matter needs to be progressed. It will benefit patients in the south east, not just those in Waterford. I appeal to the Minister for Health as well as to the Minister of State, who lives in the south east, to help progress this matter and deliver the palliative care unit for the patients who need it.
I thank the Senator for raising what is an important issue, not least for the south east. I am aware of the related matters that he raised. I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Health.
The HSE is progressing with plans to develop a 20-bed specialist palliative care inpatient unit as part of a €20 million redevelopment at University Hospital Waterford. The new unit will act as a focal point for the provision of specialist inpatient beds and community and day care services for patients and their families living in the south east. It is being developed in partnership with Waterford Hospice Movement, which has generously undertaken to fund-raise €6 million to cover the unit's capital cost. This commitment is in line with a number of proposed new hospice units at various stages of development across the country where the voluntary hospice groups provide the capital costs or build the units. The HSE is then required to provide the ongoing revenue funding for the operation of the service.
The new palliative care unit will be located on the first two floors of the five-storey development. The ground floor will accommodate 20 single inpatient rooms and ancillary accommodation. The second floor will be used to provide a day care centre, consultation rooms, treatment rooms, a therapy area and a dining area. The University Hospital Waterford project, including the palliative care unit, is included in the HSE's capital plan for 2014.
Enabling works which commenced in October 2013 have recently been completed to the front of the hospital on the proposed unit site. These works included the construction of a new roadway to relocate the access road to the old school of nursing and the RCSI to the eastern end of the campus. The works also involved the relocation of services to the perimeter of the site and the completion of new car parks adjacent to the laboratory. The design team was appointed in the summer of 2014 and it is expected that the planning application for the unit will be lodged in March 2015. Subject to funding approval by the HSE estates office, construction is planned to commence in quarter two in 2016. Construction is expected to be completed in quarter three in 2017 and, following commissioning and equipping, the unit is planned to open in quarter one in 2018.
The palliative care unit at University Hospital Waterford will be staffed by existing resources currently working in palliative care, both in acute and sub-acute services across the south east. Resources will be in place to operate the unit as planned in 2018 and in line with the project plan.
It is the intention of the Government that all dying people will be provided with the type of palliative care service that they need, regardless of their diagnosis, how old they are or whether they die in a hospice, an acute hospital or at home. To achieve this, we will need a combination of generalist and specialist palliative care services to care for people at home, in an acute hospital and a hospice, where required. The specialist palliative care unit in Waterford will, accordingly, play an important part in the palliative care infrastructure of the south east.
I thank the Minister of State for her response. When I raised this issue on 27 November 2013, the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, responded by saying the enabling works for this development were being progressed, that it was expected the design team would be appointed in early 2014 and that it was anticipated construction would commence in early 2015. The Minister of State has responded today by saying the design team was appointed in the summer of 2014 and that it is expected the planning application for the unit will be lodged in March 2015, with construction work starting in the second quarter of 2016. For whatever reason, we have moved from a date of early 2015 to the second quarter of 2016 and that is where the concern lies. There seems to be slippage, for which I do not know the reason. A clear commitment was given and, apparently, the money is available. Why have we fallen a year behind in the schedule? Why is the local palliative care unit being asked to fund-raise? The people of the south east have been asked to come up with extra revenue, which, again, people see as the State abdicating its responsibility. I welcome the developments taking place. We seem to be moving in the right direction, but it is at a snail's pace. Unfortunately, we are not getting there as quickly as we need to. Even by the Government's own timelines, we are falling behind. I, therefore appeal to the Minister of State to raise the issue of timeframes with the Minister for Health, as well as the fact that we seem to be lagging behind somewhat.
I will raise the issue with the Minister for Health. The palliative care service is being developed in partnership with the Waterford hospice movement, which is the correct partner and which has generously undertaken to raise €6 million to cover the capital cost of the unit which is in line with other palliative care units proposed. This is a very important issue and I understand completely what the Senator has said. I will raise it with the Minister.